A commenter asked my opinion about the "Tiger Force" controversy. As it happened I had given my opinion some time ago to a correspondent. I don’t believe that I posted this on the blog.
From: Patrick Lang [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 1:22 PM
To: ‘Michael Keyes’
Subject: RE: Tiger Force
Yes. I have read it. As it happens the "Newshour" once asked me to research the "Tiger Force" because their media reporter wanted to make a fuss over the series that had been written for a Cleveland or Cincinnati newspaper and for which they had received a journalism prize. After looking at this my conclusion was, and is that the story has been sensationalized and exaggerated wildly and irresponsibly.
The unit in question was the reconnaissance platoon of a line infantry battalion of the 101st Division. The battalion was 1/327 Infantry Regiment. A VN airmobile infantry battalion had four rifle companies, and a headquarters company. The rifle companies had around 150 men each most of the time and the headquarters company had in it the battalion mortar platoon, headquarters and signal people and the battalion reconnaissance platoon with around 35 men commanded by a lieutenant. The function of this platoon was to scout around, do reconnaissance and perform force protection for the battalion by patrolling out around the battalion so that surprise would not occur. You may know that in the Army the commander of any ground reconnaissance unit is always referred to as "Tiger." I have attached the unofficial and unauthorized breast patch that these men devised for themselves. The members of the platoon were ordinary airborne infantrymen of the VN War period. They were paratroopers. The 101st in VN was an airmobile division not a paratroop division but there was one brigade in it that was on "jump status." Nobody in the battalion was a Special Forces or Special Operations soldier. This platoon was not a special anything.
The number 120 as to the number of people involved is highly misleading. The platoon numbered maybe a third of that. But in VN rotations were continual both back to the states and to other units in the battalion and division. This unit was probably a desired location for enlisted people since these 35 men and their lieutenant were pretty much at liberty to wander around the area of operations of the battalion. Soldiers like being in small units on detached duty believing correctly that they are more likely to escape from fatigue details and the close supervision of senior sergeants and officers. As a result they seek this kind of duty. Given the opportunity, junior soldiers will always describe their duties in the "sexiest" possible terms. Would they say that their platoon was "special?" You bet they would, then and subsequently to anyone who would listen.
It seems likely that the battalion commander during the period under discussion (along with the intelligence and operations staff of the battalion) at the very least failed to exercise adequate supervision over the recon platoon and that the members of the platoon committed various excesses against the Vietnamese population of the province in which they were located. So far as I know, the misdeeds of this little unit were limited to a four month period. This probably corresponds to the period of command of a particular battalion CO. These command tours were normally six months long. I do not know if the misdeeds of this recon platoon were ever reported to division. Both battalion and brigade commanders would have been reluctant to report this kind of thing if it they discovered it and it reflected on them. In particular, the brigade commander present after a battalion change of command would have been vulnerable to a charge of neglect of duty which would have ended his career.
So… There is no evidence that this was other than an isolated incident involving a failure of leadership in that brigade. American troops did not wander the countryside molesting the Vietnamese. I was there and I know that to be true.
There was nothing "special" about this little unit and its deeds or crimes were indicative of nothing that could be described as general behavior.
As for investigative action, the 101st left that part of Vietnam a year or so later and the division had left VN altogether by 1972 when I arrived back in country for my last tour. When was the investigation? Think about it. What could have been done by then?
W. Patrick Lang
From: Michael Keyes [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 11:18 AM
Subject: Tiger Force
I have been a big fan of your blog for some time now and find myself agreeing with most of what you have to say about the war in Iraq and the military in general (which I suppose is a good thing if I am to continue to enjoy the blob <G>.) I am retired from the reserve (COL USAR MC) and find that I still have a fierce interest and, to some extent, loyalty to those who taught me about the military and the military forces in general. (I was active duty Navy during VN, and Army during Desert
Storm.) So I come into this question with an open mind:
Have you read this article:
and what is your opinion of it?
Michael J. Keyes, MD